Hue, the ancient citadel of Vietnam, is an attractive destination for those who are interested in the architecture of the constructions built during the feudal period. Mentioning Hue Citadel, many people will immediately imagine the ancient villages, temples and tombs in Confucian style. The combination of architecture, culture, belief and thought in each work makes it worth exploring for all tourists coming to Hue. And if you find it exciting to know more about the kings of the Nguyen Dynasty, it is a good idea to visit the tombs of Nguyen’s kings. Of all these constructions, Tomb of Minh Mang, one of three most impressive tombs, should be included in visitors’ must-travel lists.
- Location: Highway 49, Huong Tho Commune, Huong Tra District, Thua Thien – Hue Province
Opening hours: 07.30 AM – 05.00 PM
Entrance fee: Adults: 100,000 VND. Children: 20,000 VND
Dress code: polite clothes
I. History of Tomb of Minh Mang
1. King Minh Mang
Nguyen Phuc Dam was the fourth prince of King Gia Long. In 1820, after King Gia Long’s decease, he was chosen to be the second king of the Nguyen Dynasty with the era name as Minh Mang. In spite of some inappropriate policies, King Minh Mang was still considered as the best king of the Nguyen Dynasty. Under the reign of King Minh Mang, the territory of Vietnam was expanded. Many policies were reformed to stabilize the country as well as change the diplomatic relationship of Vietnam.
2. The construction process of Minh Mang Tomb
In 1827, 7 years after the enthronement of King Minh Mang, he made the mandarins choose an area to build his tomb. A plot of land on Cam Ke Mountain,where the two estuaries of Huong River merged into one, was taken into consideration. However, it was not until 1840 that the proposal of the tomb was approved.
When the construction was started, King Minh Mang changed the name Cam Ke of the mountain into Hieu Son, so the tomb was called Hieu Lang Tomb. The structure and architecture of Tomb of Minh Mang was designed by Bui Cong Huyen and Truong Dang Que, two mandarins of Minh Mang’s court. Three other mandarins named Le Dang Danh, Nguyen Trung Mau and Ly Van Phuc were in charge of managing the construction process.
In August 1840, four months after the construction was started, King Minh Mang went on an inspection tour and realized that the work was not effective, so he suspended the construction process and degraded the managers. The construction process was continued after a one-month postponement
Hardly had the work been restarted that King Minh Mang fell ill and passed away in January 1841. After the expiration of King Minh Mang, Thieu Tri became the third king of the Nguyen Dynasty and made his mandarins continue the construction. On August 20th 1841, the corpse of King Minh Mang was buried in Buu Thanh inside the Tomb of Minh Mang. However, the construction was completely finished in 1943.
From a desolate area on the mountain, thanks to the creation of humans, a majestic tomb was built, which not only contained both architecture and ideological values but also matched with nature in harmony.
II. Highlights of Tomb of Minh Mang
The area of the forbidden land around Tomb of Minh Mang is 475 hectares, of which 18 hectares are the total area of the constructions. La Thanh, which is 1,750 meters in length, is the border separating the tomb and the outside world. The interior of La Thanh is a megastructure including palaces and temples which are symmetric. The main axis of the construction, which is called “Than Dao”, is 700 meters in length. stretching from Dai Hong Mon gate to the foot of La Thanh.
The shape of the constructions looks like a man lying in a comfortable position with the head leaning on Kim Phung mountain and the legs stretching to the river intersection. The two halves of Trung Minh lake are the relaxing arms of the man.
The Tomb of Minh Mang has an symmetric arrangement with Than Dao as the axis. On the main axis is a range of constructions including entrance, court yard, stone stele house, Hien Duc gate, Sung An temple, Trung Minh lake, Minh Lau, Tan Nguyen lake, Quang Minh Chinh Truc three-door gate, Trung Dao bridge and Buu Thanh – which is the grave of King Minh Mang.
The main gate of the tomb was named Dai Hong Mon, which purpose was only for moving the coffin of Minh Mang into the tomb. The two side doors are Ta Hong Mon and Huu Hong Mon, which is for visitors to enter the construction. Trung Minh lake is separated into two parts, which looks like the green lungs enclosing Sung An temple as well as the constructions along Than Dao axis. Tan Nguyet lake is in the shape of a crescent moon embracing Buu Thanh.
Buu Thanh is a pine hill protected by a high wall where King Minh Mang rested in peace. Trung Dao bridge crosses Tan Nguyet lake, connecting Minh Lau and Buu Thanh. At the rear of Buu Thanh is a large pine forest adorning the secluded and quiet atmosphere.
The well-proportioned lay-out of the major works in the Tomb of Minh Mang create a solemn appearance that can be seen in almost all tombs. However, along the path curving around the two lakes, there are some small houses for visitors to stop and enjoy the beautiful views such as Dieu Ngu, Nghenh Phong, Tuan Loc, Quan Lan intermixing with the surrounding environment. The Tomb of Minh Mang in an overview is a harmonious combination of architecture and nature, which is both antique and magnificent.
Going deep inside the tomb, the constructions were laid on three parallel axes and Than Dao is the central axis. The two lakes not only contain the geomantic significance but also make the entire construction more charming and impressive.
Dai Hong Mon is the gate leading to the interior of the Tomb of Minh Mang. The gate was made of brick and lime, which is 9 meters in height and 12 meters in width. The gate consists of three doors in an arched shape. The roof of the gate is covered in the mossy color and decorated with the patterns of dragons and clouds, which are the familiar images of the three-door gates during the Nguyen Dynasty. The main door of Dai Hong Mon was opened only once when the coffin of Minh Mang was moved into the tomb. Due to the locked door, visitors have to use the two side doors to enter the Tomb of Minh Mang.
Bai Dinh yard is at the rear of Dai Hong Mon. The area of this square yard is nearly 2,000 square meters, which was paved with Bat Trang Ceramic (from a famous pottery village in Hanoi). On the two sides of the yard are two rows of statues of stone civil mandarins, military mandarins along with stone elephants and horses. Bi Dinh is the place for putting a stone stele named “Thanh Duc Than Cong” carved in the epitaph written by King Thieu Tri to praise the merit of King Minh Mang.
Hieu Duc Mon marks the beginning of the royal tomb area, which is in square shape enclosed in a wall representing the Earth. Sung An temple is considered as the center of the construction, in the surrounding area are auxiliary temples. Inside Sung An temple are the altars of King Minh Mang and Queen Ta Thien Nhan. Hoang Trach Mon is the end of the tomb area, where all the constructions with realistic significance stop, setting room for a world of nature at the rear.
17 stone steps take visitors to a peaceful space of green trees and wildflowers. Ta Phu bridge on the left, Huu Bat bridge on the right and Trung Dao bridge in the center is like the silk ribbons crossing Trung Minh lake and leading to Minh Lau.
“Minh Lau” means “bright floor”, which is the stopover of the soul on fanciful nights, and also the dot marking the end of the physical world. Minh Lau is the explanation of people in the past about the universe and outlook on life. The square-shaped house consists of two floors and eight roof corners, which are familiar numbers of the Eastern philosophy. On the two sides of Minh Lau are two pillars standing on Binh Son and Thanh Son.
Tan Nguyet lake embraces Buu Thanh, which is the image of the spiritual world. The crescent-moon-shape lake is the symbol of the yin factor next to Buu Thanh, the symbol of the yang factor in geomancy. This structure represents the conception of the ancient people about the changing world as well as the formation of the universe.
Quang Minh Chinh Truc bridge is a 33-steps bridge spanning Tan Nguyet lake and leading the way to the grave of King Minh Mang. The grave is on a hill named Khai Trach Son, surrounded by Buu Thanh in round shape. Buu Thanh is the smallest circle in the system of concentric circles, indicating the aspiration to embrace the whole world of the king.
In addition to various constructions with artistic and aesthetic values, there are nearly 600 relief carved poems in Bi Dinh, Hieu Duc Mon, Sung An temple and Minh Lau. The tomb is compared to the poem gallery of the literature of Vietnam in the beginning of the 19th century.
III. What to See and Do at Tomb of Minh Mang?
1. Dai Hong Mon
Dai Hong Mon is the very first gate that tourists can see when visiting the Tomb of Minh Mang. It can be said that only by looking at the gate might we feel the ancient appearance of the whole construction. The time marks on each wall, each brick and each step of the gate with the mossy color. For nearly two centuries, Dai Hong Mong has contributed to guard the sleep of the death of King Minh Mang.
2. Bai Dinh
Stepping over Dai Hong Mon, tourists can see Bai Dinh yard, a large yard with the stone statues of mandarins and animals. Not only in the Tomb of Minh Mang but also in many tombs of kings and emperors in the world, the statues are not strange images. The statues imply the significance that even if the king passed away, there are still courtiers protecting his tomb. The atmosphere there is incredibly calm and serene, so tourists at first may feel a little bit scared when stepping foot on the yard.
3. The Royal Tomb Area
This area includes Hieu Duc Mon gate and Sung An temple. Sung An temple is the place of worship of King Minh Mang and his queen. The pervasive smell of incense makes the ambiance of the temple much more solemn. The border between human and deity seems to be erased, and visitors may have a feeling as entering the spiritual world of the people of history.
4. Minh Lau
Minh Lau is outstanding in the Tomb of Minh Mang thanks to its vermilion color. The floor of Minh Lau is higher than the surrounding ground, so this is an ideal place to stop and enjoy the splendid beauty of Minh Mang Tomb. At the rear of Minh Lau are symmetrically arranged gardens with plentiful flowers adorning the beauty of the tomb.
5. Buu Thanh
Buu Thanh is the last part of the Tomb of Minh Mang. Buu Thanh is the symbol of the sun, which was considered as the center of the universe, according to the belief of ancient people. The grave of King Minh Mang is protected secretly under the shadow of secluded pine forest. The hissing sounds of the wind and tree there are the stories of the jungle about the life of a king.
IV. How to Get to the Tomb of Minh Mang?
The Tomb of Minh Mang is about 12 kilometers in the west of Hue City. You can choose to get to the Tomb of Minh Mang by motorbike, by car or by boat.
If you go by motorbike or by car, from Hue Imperial City, you cross Da Vien Bridge, follow Dien Bien Phu then Minh Mang Street until you reach the intersection of Minh Mang Street and Highway 49. Continue to follow Highway 49 about 6 more kilometers and you will get to the Tomb of Minh Mang. It takes you about 22 minutes to reach the Tomb of Minh Mang.
If you want to go by boat, you can take a boat from Hue City center, going upstream Huong River. On the way, you can admire an appealing Hue with serene villages on the banks of the river, which is the inspiration of many Vietnamese writers and poets.
V. Extra Tips
- The best time to visit Minh Mang Tomb is from January to February, which is the most suitable period to visit the historical destinations in Hue.
- The average time to visit the whole construction of the Tomb of Minh Mang is from 3 to 4 hours.
- Tourists visiting the Tomb of Minh Mang as well as other tombs and temples in Hue should dress politely. Shorts, short skirts or sleeveless shirts are not encouraged.
- There are some areas in the Tomb of Minh Mang where photos are not allowed. Tourists must pay attention to the instruction as well as the caution signpost in order not to break the rules.
- If you travel in a family with children, remember to keep an eye on them. The lakes there are quite deep and dangerous for children.
- Unless you know what to visit in Minh Mang Tomb, just follow Than Dao axis from the entrance. All the major constructions are on that path.
- Going with a tour guide might be useful since you can know more stories about King Minh Mang as well as the construction of the tomb.
Despite the change of time and history, the Tomb of Minh Mang still remains intact. Along with the tombs of Tu Duc and Thieu Tri, Minh Mang Tomb is one of the most worthy destinations for a visit of tourists in Hue City. The whole construction is the combination of human and nature, preserving all the values and meanings of a period in Vietnamese history. If you have a chance to visit Hue City, don’t forget to include the Tomb of Minh Mang in your itinerary.